On April 4, 1925, the Columbia Theatre in Longview, Washington, opens to the public. The venue, built by the Columbia Theatre Amusement Company (a group of businessmen associated with city developer R. A. Long) is located at 1231 Vandercook Way.
Seating up to 1,000 patrons (or roughly one fourth of Longview’s population at the time), the Columbia was originally outfitted with a 9-rank Kimball organ to accompany the venue’s silent film screenings. (However, the instrument’s console was intentionally expanded to give the appearance of an organ three times that size.) The theater also played host to touring stage shows during its early days, including dates featuring an unknown stock actor based out of Portland at the time, Clark Gable.
The Columbia continued to be a popular destination in Longview until the 1970s, when competition from newer, multi-screen theaters siphoned off much of its audience. At one point in 1980, in fact, a contract was signed to demolish the Columbia. With the countdown to its demise measured in days, it seemed that only an act of God could save the Columbia Theatre. That act of God came with the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.
The eruption pulled the demolition contractor away to other parts of southwest Washington, and allowed concerned citizens to organize an effort to save the Columbia. On July 21, 1981, the Columbia Theatre Task Force was created to help save the venue, and although they met with a rough start, their efforts culminated in the sale of the historic theater to the city of Longview on December 9, 1982.
With a few ups and downs in-between, the Task Force has managed to resurrect the old Columbia, now (in 2003) known as the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts. Although motion picture screenings are no longer the main attraction, the theater plays host to a variety of other gatherings, including plays, concerts, and other large events.